So, finally, my verdict on Patricia’s clematis: this clematis did not flower
in 2012 (its first year in her garden) because it had, I feel sure, been cut
down by the growers for convenience before it was sold to her, and had no
mature flower-bearing growth on it that year. The browning wasn’t/isn’t
clematis wilt, which would have “got” the shoot tips first (and there were
signs of live leaves on her plant’s extremities). My guess is that her plant
was too exposed and lacked water from midsummer onwards, and thus went into
a premature autumn. I suspect that if she looks closely she will see that it
is still alive and that it will in fact flower next year (though maybe not
brilliantly) if she reduces the whole mess a little and repots it into
something slightly larger in a rich compost as described above. Trimmed back
after flowering, subsequent new growth will flower in 2015. By applying a
weekly liquid feed during the growing season, she will also ensure the plant
gets adequate water.
Too blue to be true
Wendy Gale from Ticknall is not the only reader who, fascinated and dismayed
in equal measure, has acquired an extraordinarily highly coloured and
unreal-looking blue moth orchid (Phalaenopsis), and doesn’t know quite what
the future holds for it (bearing in mind that a swift exit into the bin is a
My friend Kate, an out-and-out “indigophile” (yes, I have indeed made that one
up – a suitable word, I feel, for those who simply can’t resist anything
blue), was given one recently by her son, so we took the opportunity to have
a good look at it to see exactly how nature had been so dramatically
tampered with. We found what looks like a small scar just below a node near
the base of each flower stem. I phoned orchid specialists at McBeans in
Sussex (mcbeansorchids.co.uk), always full of helpful advice on matters
Orchidaceae. They were understandably snooty about these garish and
unnatural-coloured aberrations and confirmed my suspicion that they are
indeed injected with bright blue dye.
The future looks distinctly less garish. The smaller flowers at the tip of
each stem on Wendy’s orchid will open rather less blue (as those on Kate’s
plant have started to do), the next batch of flower stems may produce blooms
that are merely slightly grey, and after that they should revert to their
natural colour – white. Phew, I can almost hear Wendy sigh. Thank goodness
Lop till you drop
Do you know where I could purchase a lopper on a single pole? The cutters
should be on the top and the cable or cord runs down the pole, while the
hand-held end has a handle. When turned, the cutters go through the
branches. I have seen pruners similar to this but they were made by a
gardener’s grandfather and the pole was wooden. Being only 5ft 1in tall,
I find the metal extending loppers you have written about in the past are
far too heavy to manage.
Maureen Hicks, Sussex
I have to say that I think that particular non-extending type of pruner (that
my father had, too), is no longer around.
I have indeed written about tree loppers a couple of times before. I have
tried out all sorts, all of them extending, including the type that have to
be used virtually one-handed, with an operating cord/pulley that I find gets
itself in a bit of a twist and swings too easily and rather annoyingly out
of reach at all the wrong moments. I’ve also tried the newer
super-extendable types, operated via a sprung “sleeve” positioned on the
shaft. This is the style I now favour – I would be surprised if this was the
type you find too heavy and hard to use.
Made by Fiskars, my favoured tree pruner is called a Telescopic Universal
Cutter, and costs around £85. It has a powerful cutting head, the angle of
which can be usefully adjusted, and its pole extends to a massive 11ft
(3.4m). When added on to the full reach of an average-sized person, this
enables you to reach high up into trees. There are smaller and less
unwieldy versions of this pruner that you might find a suitable substitute
for your old-style one. Simply called Garden Cutters, you will find them on
fiskars.com. The way the mechanism works enables you to use these pruners
with both hands, which puts far less strain on your arms and shoulders than
do the heavier-headed floppy-cord ones, I find.
Time to move colchicums
The flowers of my pink autumn crocus have now died down. Is this the right
time of year to move them?
It is best not to disturb autumn crocus corms when they are in active growth,
or you risk upsetting them so that they will not flower the following year.
The time to do the job, if you must, is in high summer, around July, once
the leaves have died down completely. Re-plant them in informal groups,
about 3-4in (8-10cm) deep.
Finding a suitable site for colchicums can be a little problematic. They look
very fetching flowering in the naturally dryish soil at the base of trees
and large shrubs, but this sort of place may not, in fact, be sunny enough
in the spring/summer to encourage autumn flowers
Thorny problem? Write to Thorny Problems at email@example.com or
gardening, The Daily Telegraph, 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0DT.
Helen Yemm can answer questions only through this column